The thumb injuries that kept center fielder Luis Robert off the field in 2018, and the knee and ankle injuries that sidelined him during his first year on U.S soil in 2017 came with benefits, the White Sox’ prized Cuban outfield prospect said Tuesday.
Obviously, Robert, 21, would have been better served getting more reps and playing more games in these key development years. Having missed time on the field is why he is making up for it by playing in the Arizona Fall League now — and performing well hitting safely in his first 12 games including a home run, one double, and eight RBI for the Glendale Desert Dogs — but Robert took a positive from being forced off the field by the injuries.
“Any time you miss time on the field it will delay your process, especially for a young player as I am,” Robert said on a conference call through translator Billy Russo. “On the other side, all that time I was off the field has helped me adjust to this process in this new country. That’s something I feel good about.”
Signed by the Sox to a hefty $26 million bonus on May 27, 2017, Robert spent the entire 2017 season in the Dominican Summer League, some of it on the sidelines. “All that time” he referenced was due to a minor injury to his left meniscus suffered while attempting to steal home and to his right ankle while running the bases.
This past spring, Robert sprained his left thumb on a feet-first slide into second base during a Cactus League game — he hit a game-winning homer despite the injury moments later — and was out until June 5. Then he reinjured the same thumb and missed more time in July, and was sidelined from Fall League action for a week by a hamstring injury, the latest setback in a disquieting trend.
All that time off allowed for more time to adapt to his new surroundings and to the English language. That’s how Robert is looking at it, anyway.
“The biggest challenge for me is the language,” Robert said. “It’s really tough being in a place when you don’t know what people are saying. I can grasp a few words but I don’t know sometimes what people are telling me. That’s definitely frustrating but I’ve been trying to learn. But also the food. If you don’t know how to speak the language you don’t know what to order.”
Robert’s uncle has been around to help him along, but he’s not around the clock.
“Thank God I have my uncle here but he’s not here all the time,” Robert said. “When he’s not with me I don’t really eat very well. I just get like burgers, pizza. And that’s tough because that’s not the kind of food I’m used to. But that’s part of the adjustment process. I’m just trying to go there and get better every day.”
Meanwhile, Robert continues to demonstrate the deep tool set (as well as evidence of plate discipline) that has him ranked fourth among Sox prospects and 44th overall by MLB Pipeline, but while showing plenty of power during batting practice, that tool hasn’t been seen in game action. He did not hit a homer in 50 minor league games this season.
“I think my power is there,” he said. “It’s true that when I came off the DL I wasn’t feeling fine with my wrist [from compensating for the sore thumb] and I couldn’t swing the bat very hard but I feel better, right now 100 percent. I don’t have any pain or soreness.
“I think my power is going to be showing up little by little. I’m confident. I know I’m going to hit homers.”
Robert said the challenge of facing Fall League pitching, compared to what he saw at the Class A levels, is facing “good pitchers every day.” Aside from going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Fall League all-star game Saturday, he’s had no issues with it with two weeks of action remaining.
“I’ve been working on my swing, trying to barrel the ball and cover the strike zone better,” he said.
“My goal is to work hard in the offseason and be ready for spring training. Whatever plan the team has for me next year. I can just control the things I can do and how I can perform. I want to get better every day, I want to learn and develop and be the best player I can be. That’s my goal and plan.”
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